What is the Difference Between Counselors, Psychotherapists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists?

Seeking help for your mental health can seem daunting. Coming to terms with the fact that you have a mental illness is hard enough. Then, you have endless blogs of tips and tricks for trying to teach you how to navigate the mental health services, limitless lists of therapy treatments, and advice pages discussing where and who to go to. But how do you make this decision when you’re not exactly sure what healthcare professional to opt for?

There are numerous mental health professionals out there, and each overlaps in some shape or form, whether this is a mental health counselor, clinical psychologist or counseling psychologist. The vast amount of information online can be difficult to navigate, so we have attempted to break down the various mental health professionals, what they do, how they can help, and their differences and similarities. Hopefully, this will guide you in making an informed decision when choosing the best professionals to assist you.

Types of Mental Health Professionals

When speaking about mental health treatment, terms like counselor or therapist are used interchangeably; although they both suggest some form of psychotherapy, the two professions differ. Some key differences between mental health practitioners are:

  • Training

  • Education

  • Licenses

  • Treatment options

Knowing the different treatments that each mental health professional offers is important to ensure you find the most appropriate treatment to support you, your mental illness, and your personal needs.


A psychotherapist is a trained professional who uses talk therapy sessions to treat people for emotional disorders and mental illnesses such as anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, or depression.

Typically, psychotherapy services offer treatment that helps tackle and resolve emotional problems and psychological issues by addressing certain obstacles that you may have encountered through certain life events. Talking therapies have been proven to be effective in helping you understand your behaviors and emotions by guiding you in how to manage these effectively.

Psychotherapists help to guide you in working through daily life issues such as:

  • Helping with psychological issues brought on by life circumstances

  • How to manage stress

  • Managing unhealthy reactions

  • How to understand your thought patterns

  • Teaching specific techniques to cope with life challenges

To practise psychotherapy, psychotherapists tend to have specific training in both counseling, psychology, and psychological therapies. Depending on their training, they can opt to specialise with specific groups, such as children or adults. They work with a range of people, whether it be individuals, families, or couples.

Psychotherapy is a longer termed process than counseling, and sessions will occur on a regular basis to ensure clients can finish their treatment with the ability to feel more in control of their life.


Counselors practice psychotherapy to guide clients who are facing current mental health difficulties, hence why counselors and psychotherapists are often spoken about within the same context.

The difference is that counseling focuses on working through a particular problem someone is currently facing for a short period of time. For example, a session may involve conversations, about specific concerns, between the client and counselor, without a structured agenda or form. Counselors may not delve as deeply into past traumas or life experiences, such as psychotherapists would to uncover events that may have contributed to someone’s mental health disorder.

Although they may not have the same educational background as psychotherapists, it is a good option for those who have an awareness of their wellbeing and who need guidance and encouragement in resolving issues with recommendations rather than by telling them straight what to do. Counseling can help in dealing with:

  • abuse

  • bereavement

  • stress and anxiety

  • relationship issues

  • work-related issues

They may differ in their treatment methods; however, both psychotherapists and counselors aim to encourage you to talk freely about your feelings and emotions in a comfortable and safe setting.


Psychologists have doctoral degrees in psychology, where they have extensively studied the mind, how it works, and the way people behave and interact within society. Psychology can range from covering memory to more complex mental health conditions.

Counseling psychologists provide counseling treatment, similarly to general counseling, that tends to focus on addressing emotional issues by helping the client to work through these troubles. These include trauma, bereavement, or relationship issues.

The key differences between counselors and counseling psychologists are that a counseling psychologist will offer research-based treatments and will work through issues on the basis of a medical understanding of mental health problems. This allows them to deal with more long-term serious cases such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Clinical psychologists are experts in the study of behaviors and minds. Those working with clinical psychology tend to focus more on a diagnostic discipline as their practice has been on observations, tests, and evaluations to decide on the correct disorder diagnosis. A clinical psychologist will focus on science and theory to help understand the type of mental health disorder that their client may be living with.

Although psychologists are doctors, they are not medical doctors; this means that they are unable to write prescriptions or perform any medical procedures.


A psychiatrist has had training at a medical school where their focus was on learning how to prevent, diagnose and treat a range of mental disorders. These medical doctors are experienced in differentiating mental health disorders and identifying psychiatric symptoms that could otherwise occur due to another underlying medical condition.

Psychiatrists build their knowledge through observation and research, which allows them to offer medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. They tend to monitor physical conditions that may occur due to the presence of an underlying mental health illness, such as increased heart rate and the effects of any prescribed medication.

As they are considered medical doctors, psychiatrists can write prescriptions and tend to provide case management services for clients rather than the therapy side of treatment. They mainly deal with mental disorders that have the option of treatment through specific drugs, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Major depressive disorder

  • ADHD

Research has found that some mental health issues can be treated through medication alone. When working with a psychiatrist, this is the option they tend to take. When dealing specifically with each client’s case, they may suggest psychotherapy or counseling. Although they are trained and able to provide this service, they tend to work with other mental health professionals who offer a more specialised service.

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What is the Difference Between Counseling and Therapy

If you are researching mental health treatment options, you will most definitely have come across the terms therapy and counseling. But choosing which one is best suited for you can be difficult if you’re unsure of what their differences actually are. The words are used interchangeably, making it tricky to understand what each service offers and who offers it.

Counseling focuses on working through specific issues for a short period of time, whereas therapy sessions aim to help you have an understanding of yourself, feelings, thought patterns, and behaviors. When assessing their differences to find the most appropriate treatment for you, it is important to ensure their services will support your specific and individual needs.

Different Types of Psychotherapy

Therapy sessions are a long-term option aimed at working through a person’s thinking and behavior patterns, which in turn affect the way a person interacts with society.

The aim is for clients to gain a better understanding of how they view themselves, the world, and the underlying ideas as to why they do the things they do. For example, if someone is suffering from severe depression, therapy will explore how this impacts them and will attempt to teach them coping strategies, so they are able to live with the mental illness.

Therapy typically focuses on more complex issues, such as how past experiences can influence current situations. Types of psychotherapy include:

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This type of therapy aims to identify and challenge thoughts and behaviors that are harmful to your mental health. CBT is based on several core principles that believe psychological problems are due to faulty ways of thinking and learned patterns of unhealthy behavior. CBT attempts to change these thinking habits by encouraging healthy solutions, recognition of problematic thinking, and teaching problem-solving skills to deal with stressful situations.

CBT is a form of behavioral therapy where a therapist will encourage a client to exercise different skills to change their behaviors and reactions to certain situations. This option of therapy is often used for anxiety, depression, stress, and addiction.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is based on the idea that certain life events can affect our feelings, choices, and behaviors. It aims to uncover repressed emotions that may be contributing to your mental illness.

Within these sessions, a therapist will encourage you to speak about experiences, memories, or dreams that have influenced your life in some way. The goal of the therapist is to bring to consciousness any unconscious issues that may be affecting a person’s life.

Humanistic Therapy

This approach to therapy differs from behavioral therapies as it tends to focus on the here and now. The therapy gives agency to clients and puts emphasis on an individual’s ability to grow and heal through self-exploration.

The core principle is the idea that individuals have their own unique outlook of the world and how this can influence our actions and choices.

Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy brings in a range of practices in an attempt to encourage people to heal and thrive on a mental, physical and spiritual level.

It aims to give clients a sense of self-awareness through techniques such as mindfulness and bodywork to encourage relaxation and to encourage a connection between the body and mind.

Different Types of Counseling

Counseling tends to focus on working with specific issues for a limited amount of time. A counselor could work with a client for a number of reasons, such as helping to manage stress or trying to improve a relationship.

A counselor may offer guidance, support, and education to allow clients to find their own solutions to problems that they are facing. They provide tactics for self-care in order to improve well-being. You may opt for counseling if:

  • You have specific problems you wish to address

  • You want to learn to manage your stress better

  • You are trying to deal with loss or grief

  • You are dealing with an addiction disorder

There are different types of counselors that work with different clients to address a broad range of issues. Some common types of counseling include:

  • Individual counseling

  • Group counseling

  • Couples/marriage counseling

  • Family counseling

Getting Started With a Mental Health Professional

Whether you opt to see a counselor, psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, all will attempt to work with you to deal with a mental health problem in order to improve the quality of your life.

Finding the right person to work with you is key, and at times the first health care professional you work with may not be the person best suited to help.

The first person you should see if you believe you are dealing with a mental health problem is your doctor. Here, they will discuss symptoms and how long you have experienced them. They will assess any physical problems and will guide you in choosing what mental health practitioner is a good fit for you, and what therapy is best suited for you.

Treatment with The Revoke Programme

The Revoke Programme offers evidence-based services on an outpatient basis. Our highly specialised team of therapists, psychotherapists, psychologists, and medical doctors work alongside one another to deliver a fully integrated mental and behavioral healthcare treatment plan.

If you have been struggling with your mental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Help is always available. Contact us today to discuss treatment options.

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